Van Kalker’s – 80 Years of Operation

In the year 2017, Van Kalker celebrated 80 years of operation.

Having started in Cape Town, in 1937, 80 years will be a big milestone for a small photography studio, making it on its own. But all credit due to the communities, companies and people that has helped Van Kalker Studios reach this milestone. The support, contributions and help goes with many thanks and a lot of appreciation.

With the future ahead, Van Kalker plans to keep up with trends, technology and client’s needs, in order to be successfully operating in the years to come.


We’re on Social Media

Van Kalker has a growing social media presence, and images are easy to find and view on of social accounts.

If you looking to see our latest news and updates or maybe view some of Van Kalker’s imagery, please have a look at some of social media profiles. Want to discuss something with us? Feel free to send us a message on one of our social media accounts, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

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New era of photography

Just shy of two hundred years ago, the very first photograph was taken, with a few more refinements as detailed in the Evolution of Photography infographic, photography began to change the way we saw the world.

We are familiar today with some of these early examples of photography. The rows of stony-faced subjects, all of whom have been told to sit still for whilst the image is captured. It is hard to stay smiling, sitting in the same position for several minutes hence, photos of unsmiling families.

Capturing history

Photography soon became a source of information and communication. On one hand, it was used as a form of creative self-expression – something that still happens today – but it also quickly became a tool that documented all of life, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The pictures are grainy and black and white, but the horrors of the Great War were captured time and again by war photographs. On the centenary of the end of World War 1, we examine these grainy images, the shock and horror no less intimidating because it lacks colour.

But it photography has also captured the good in life. From personal celebrations to those that unite the nation, these small snippets of time captured on film are still enjoyed.

The digital revolution

There have been many changes in photography over the last two centuries that we have used it. We have gone from posing for several minutes to quick snapshots. The digital revolution has enhanced the way we see the world.

Digital photos are quick, capturing a millisecond of time. Documenting life in the 21st century, photos are no longer left in albums, gathering dust on a shelf. They are shared and enjoyed.

Amazingly, we no longer need a camera in hand, either! We can snap the world around us on our phones, our PCs, laptops and tablets. We can manipulate images, changing colours as well as shadows, the fall of the light and more, layering with a filter to enhance the final photo.

But with change, comes conflict. Many digital photos are erased as fast as they are taken. They can be manipulated so that some things are scrubbed out, like a digital eraser. They draw comment and criticism too.

Source: https://www.all-about-photo.com/photo-articles/photo-article/418/the-evolution-of-photography


Chamber of Dreams: Photographs of the Van Kalker Studio

The Van Kalker photographic collection is a vault of private moments in which special events such as weddings, birthdays, graduations and christenings were immortalised and memorialised. They offer an intimate yet still unfolding account of the city of Cape Town and its people.

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The Van Kalker Studio, started by the late J. G. Van Kalker in 1937 at 47 Victoria Street, Woodstock, became one of the most popular photo studios in Cape Town. Against a backdrop of increasing segregation which later culminated in apartheid in 1948, Van Kalker provided a space in which aspirations and fantasies could be articulated through poses, props, clothing and accessories.

 The studio provided a space where, for a brief moment, sitters could be free from the harsh realities of their socio-economic and political circumstances. Nestled between a café adjacent to The Gem bioscope and a men’s clothing shop, the Van Kalker studio occupied a tiny space in the Trafalgar Buildings on the busy main street of Woodstock, which always seemed to be teeming with shops, people and traffic. 

Trained as a photographer in Europe, Van Kalker immigrated to South Africa from the Netherlands just before the start of World War II. Primarily a commercial photographer, he appealed to the burgeoning working class communities of District Six, Salt River, Woodstock and other surrounding areas partly because of his ability to take a good photograph and because the studio was located on a main transport route.

The Van Kalker studio became part of many individuals and families’ traditions as sitters could present themselves as dignified and respectable. The act of having a photograph taken became an important tool for crafting self-knowledge and representation. Thus the Van Kalker photographs were treated in a special way as they found their way into collections of textured frames that went onto family mantelpieces, sideboards and walls. These spaces became shrines, “public statements of group achievement and assurance; private statements of devotion, past and present.” The display of Van Kalker photographs as material objects, in prominent positions in the domestic interior, provided a way for many people to enter history without words. The photographs weave an ephemeral visual seam across time and space, connecting those geographically displaced through segregation and apartheid.

Adapted from G. Frieslaar, ‘Looking good, clean and fresh’: visual representations of the self in the Van Kalker Studio, Cape Town 1939 – 1978. (Unpublished MA Dissertation, University of the Western Cape, 2011)